A Somali refugee makes history in Maine while Facebook protects hate speech against her

Beginning in the 1970s, the city of Lewiston, Maine, suffered a massive population drain from all the closed mills. Thousands of Somali war refugees settled in the state’s second-largest city since the turn of the century and call it home. The refugees are actually credited with completely turning the city around since the first Somali family arrived in 2001. The new arrivals not only plugged the population drain, built helped rebuild a true community; They opened community centers, nonprofits, shops, and restaurants. The refugees, now able to get an education, enrolled in schools and local colleges. A 2009 profile on Lewiston in Newsweek noted that since Somalis arrived in Lewiston, the income per capita soared and, contrary to Donald Trump’s xenophobic claims, the crime rate dropped significantly. 

Now, for the first time since they began making Lewiston their new home, the 5,000 people in the city’s Somali community have a bit of political representation. Safiya Khalid is a 23-year old activist who, just weeks ago, won a historic seat on the city council with nearly 70% of the vote.

Khalid was told several times that her campaign wouldn’t work, but her belief in the community—not to mention her hard work and tenacity—paid off. She won, and predictably, her victory brought out both the best and the worst of the city. She received a lot of love and support, but was also subjected to vile attacks by Trump-loving white supremacists.

One white supremacist Facebook group in particular, leaning on Trump’s language about “shithole countries” and Muslims, really leaned into their hatred after Khalid’s victory.

Many had spent the past week spreading racist and anti-Muslim hate speech online in an effort to derail Khalid’s campaign — a tactic that had proven effective in past municipal elections. Some members of the Facebook group called Khalid a “sh**bag muslim” who wears a “head diaper; ”another advocated “killing as many muslims as possible.”

One poster shared Khalid’s home address, implicitly encouraging other group members to terrorize the 23-year-old candidate, who reportedly received death threats and was subjected to other harassment during the race.